A letter from Marcia Towers in Guatemala
How many prayers must soar up to God during an earthquake! On November 7 I was at home working at my computer in the mid-morning when the windows started making a shaking noise and my chair started trembling. I ran to a secure corner of my room and the earth’s trembling got stronger, the strongest I’ve felt here in Guatemala, and I prayed for my kids at their schools and the Young Adult Volunteers and for Guatemalans I know, and I prayed for Guatemalans in other places where the force of the earthquake might be even stronger. I know many people around the country were saying similar passionate prayers!
The earthquake turned out to be 7.4 on the Richter scale, just off the southwest coast of Guatemala. It was the strongest earthquake in Guatemala since the historic one in 1976 that killed 20,000 people. In Antigua, where I was, there was little to no damage other than shaken nerves. But as the damage became clear, six departments in the southwest area of Guatemala, especially San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, suffered the most. In total, more than 21,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, more than 9,000 people are in shelters, and about 40 people died.
As in many disasters, the most vulnerable and affected are the poorest in these regions. Many people in rural areas and some in urban areas built low-cost houses out of adobe block without much reinforcement, and these houses collapse much more easily than other forms of construction like cement block. A blessing in this instance is that while the damage was great for some people, it was not extremely widespread across the country, and for the short-term Guatemalan donations and institutions alongside some outside help are being able to attend basic needs of food, shelter, and water for those who have lost their houses.
Cedepca, the ecumenical partner organization where I work in Guatemala, is also blessed with being able to provide a critical aspect of emergency aid: psychosocial and emergency care. After an emergency many groups respond to cover critical physical needs: bring food, set up shelters, provide clean water, etc. But we are always struck by how grateful people are also to have a space to process out loud what has happened. After this earthquake those Cedepca staff visited were feeling depression, fear, desolation, anxiety, hopelessness, and grief. And these emotional states translate also into physical headaches, stomach problems, respiratory problems, muscle aches, and other problems. Together with ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance, we’ll have a team of four psychologists in San Marcos and Quetzaltenango for three months to facilitate several sessions of psychosocial and spiritual care for more than 3,000 people. They will facilitate time for catharsis, art therapy, relaxation exercises, identification of what we are thankful for, working on our project of what we dream about for our life, prayer, and other activities to help people regain emotional stability and feel ready to take on life’s challenges with joy and energy.
Please join us in prayer for those affected. Below I’m including a few testimonies that we heard at the end of November in areas affected by the earthquake. Spend just a few minutes to imagine yourself in the shoes of those more than 21,000 families with houses lost, and pray for health, basic needs met, and especially for hope and dreams and joy for them.
Felisa, 7 years old: “My house fell down, and the trees that were near me scared me because I thought they were going to fall on me.”
Eluvia, 18 years old: “I was outside the house when I saw that everything was shaking, the land opened, and I remembered that my 2-year-old brother was in the kitchen. I ran in and got him out and after that the house fell down. I felt sad because the house fell down and the place where I am living is uncomfortable…. I feel glad that I am alive and so is my brother.”
Juan, 66 years old: “I was outside with my kids when we saw that the house fell down. I felt sad because now I don’t have a place to live, and in the school where we are staying it is different because it isn’t home. Many people have come to leave food, but no one had come to ask us how we feel. I’m thankful for your visit because I feel that you’re interested in us.”
Maria: “I was in another town selling. When it started to shake and the earth opened, I was scared. I got to my house and found it was no longer there, just rubble. It made me sad. Losing my house is hard because it was valuable because it is where my children grew up, and it took a lot of effort to build it, I have a lot of nostalgia remembering my house and all it means to me. But I trust in God that one day I will build it again and this time I’ll put a floor in because it had been a dirt floor.”
Thank you all for your support and prayers!
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 16
Read more about Marcia Towers' ministry